Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Guest Post: Bringing Authors into the Classroom by Benjamin Dancer

I teach writing to high school students. But I donʼt see myself as a high school teacher.  My job, as I see it, is to mentor young people as they come of age.

Iʼm an Advisor at Jefferson County Open School in Lakewood, Colorado. Iʼm the English teacher. But the kids in my classroom are looking for more than English. Theyʼre looking for meaning. Theyʼre looking for something real.

Right now Iʼm teaching The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I use the text to teach the kids to read. I use the ideas in the book to teach them to think. And the story Pollan tells about food...I use that as a guide for our own educational adventures in the food chain. Like Pollan does in the book, we visit farms. Food markets. I bought the kids McDonalds then drove them to a feedlot with a 100,000 head of cattle that filled our nostrils with the stench of feces and urine. The poop was piled twenty feet high by tractors. The cows were covered in it up to their spines. Our lungs were singed from the ammonia.

I had the kids eat the burgers and take it all in.

Later in the semester I had the students interview their oldest living relatives. Out of that interview, the students brought traditional recipes to class, and we prepared meals together.

This week weʼre discussing the ethics of eating. I have them justify it: their choice to eat, which is to say their choice to kill. I do this because I want them to be on solid moral ground. I do this because I want their bodies to be well.

Why? Because Iʼm their English teacher. Itʼs my job.

I also facilitate a writersʼ group. Because I believe kids need mentors (more than just me), I partner with Lighthouse Writers Workshop, a Denver based community, to bring local authors into my classroom.

We meet at lunch every Wednesday, the writersʼ group. This is a very committed group of writers (some students have graduated and still participate in the group via email from college). They take their writing seriously and provide one another with thoughtful, constructive feedback.

Once a month, we have a guest author. The guest author actually reads the weekʼs submission and critiques it, along with the rest of us. Imagine being seventeen years old and having your story critiqued by a published author.

After the critique session, we invite any interested student in the school to a craft talk with the author. After which, the kids get an opportunity to interact more openly. They get to ask questions about the writing process. About inspiration. About how to get published.

Whatʼs really happening is that relationships are being developed. This is the secret to education. They can pass any law they want at the state or at the federal level. They can mandate testing. Or they can sell our schools to corporate enterprises. None of that will fix the problem we have with education in America.

Because the answer is this: teaching is about relationships. Kids need mentors. Itʼs that simple. They learn from the people they trust.

What happens in this guest author program is magical. Kids begin to see themselves as writers. They develop authentic relationships with authors in the community. They have consultants.

At my school, every student completes a Career Exploration Passage. Itʼs one of six rites of passages each student undertakes to graduate from high school. In the Career Exploration Passage, as the title indicates, students explore a career. The project involves an internship, research, consultants, a series of interviews, a resume. And eventually the student maps out a path to his or her chosen field.

The beauty of the curriculum at the Open School is that the students I work with get to consult with actual professionals. They get to interview our guest authors and develop relationships that will last long after high school is over.

To make all this work I went to our schoolʼs Parent Teacher Student Organization (PTSO) and asked for $50 a month to bring local authors into the classroom. The parents on PTSO generously supported the program, and they also asked me to consider ways to raise money to pay for it.

It was a reasonable request on their part, responsible even, but I had to think about it. What could I do to help support my own program?

Meanwhile, I went to Lighthouse Writers Workshop and told them what our PTSO was willing to do. Lighthouse generously matched my schoolʼs contribution.

So we had $100 a month to bring local authors into the school. Not much. But money communicates value. By paying authors what we can, we let them know that we value their profession. Their work. Moreover, writers are hungry, and, so far, the guest authors have been grateful for the gig.

This week weʼre hosting Caleb Seeling, the publisher at Conundrum Press. Caleb also writes graphic novels.

Then it finally came to me a few weeks ago: how to raise money for the program. I had a book release pending for my literary thriller Patriarch Run. It occurred to me that I could donate the April proceeds to PTSO and, in that way, raise money to support the guest author program at the Open School.

Which is what weʼre doing. Itʼs a good book. Itʼs a good cause. And weʼd welcome your support.

If youʼd like to know more about our amazing school (there have been many books written about it), let me know. And if youʼd like to learn more about me or my stories, you could drop me a line about that, too.

Thank you for finding me,
Benjamin Dancer

Benjamin is an Advisor at Jefferson County Open School where he has made a career out of mentoring young people as they come of age. He wrote the novels PATRIARCH RUN, IN SIGHT OF THE SUN and FIDELITY. He also writes about parenting and education.

Patriarch Run is a thoughtful and character driven literary thriller. Think of it as Jason Bourne meets Good Will Hunting. Billy discovers that his father might be a traitor, that he was deployed to safeguard the United States from a cyberattack on its military networks. After that mission, his father disappeared along with the Chinese technology he was ordered to steal–a weapon powerful enough to sabotage the digital infrastructure of the modern age and force the human population into collapse.

Against a backdrop of suspense, the story explores the archetypal themes of fatherhood, coming of age and self-acceptance through a set of characters that will leave you changed.

Amazon Review:
"A masterful work both compelling and beautiful." By Emily Giles on March 20, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Amazon Verified Purchase

Patriarch Run opens on the gruesome scene of a recent bombing, with a man who doesn't know who he is. We learn his name, and the reader is swept along as Jack evades capture by a multitude of determined pursuers including American and Chinese agencies. What makes the situation even more tense is that Jack, because he remembers almost nothing of his past, does not know what he has done. Neither is he sure who--if anyone--is on his side. Because his instincts are those of a trained and hardened Special Forces operative, it becomes clear that his ability to remember his past actions is critical. We are as blind to his past as Jack himself is, and as we witness Jack's actions--at turns ruthless and unexpectedly kind--we struggle to determine if Jack is a good guy or a bad guy. During his fast-paced run from would-be captors, his life becomes entangled with those of the wife and son he deserted years ago. What makes the plotline thrilling is the action that keeps us on the edge of our seat. What makes the title transcendent of the genre of thriller is the book's wisdom, compassion and heart. Never have I read a book simultaneously as thrilling and as beautiful. The characters have complexity and guts. The storyline has depth, creativity, and social relevance. The prose is starkly beautiful. As I read the book, I found myself comparing Benjamin Dancer to writers of such popularity and stature as Tom Clancy, Cormac McCarthy and John Steinbeck.

Excerpt from Patriarch Run:
Rachel never rode over the summit of the mountain because of the treacherous nature of that trail. It was against all rational judgement that she found herself on it now. At tree line the horse climbed over the ridge, stepped out of the spruce forest and onto the packed scree that made up the trail from there to the tundra. The mountainside below them gave way completely to granite cliffs.

The trail snaked along the top.

At the highest point among the cliffs, with nearly a thousand feet of empty space beneath the hooves of Old Sam, Rachel spotted two figures several hundred yards in the distance. She talked to the horse. Said she couldnʼt be sure, but it looked to be a  man and a bristlecone pine.

 The horse walked on.

“Watch your step, Old Sam.”

As they closed the distance, Rachel recognized him and saw that he was untying a rope from the gnarled tree.

“You couldnʼt have picked a better view.”

Regan had looked at her once when he first heard the hooves on the scree, then he went back to his rope. Now he looked up at her face. Looked the horse over. Then he studied her eyes. She had divined his purpose.

He looked away. “Yeah, itʼll do.”

The two knew each other, but had rarely had cause to speak.

“I donʼt mean to meddle, but it seems to me that the rope is ill conceived.”

Regan finished retying the rope to the tree, tested the knot and asked, “How so?”

“Too much length, and the wind, along with your own momentum, will lacerate your flesh against the rock.”

He looked over the edge. “That occurred to me as you were coming up. I shortened the rope.”

“Not enough length, and itʼll be slow and painful.”

He studied the coil of parachute cord on the ground and said with very little inflection. “It looks about right to me.” Then he walked over to a granite boulder.

“Seems youʼve thought it through.”

He sat down and pulled off his right boot. “Weʼll see.”

Rachel reached behind her and took out a water bottle. Drank. She offered the bottle to Regan with a gesture.

He put out his lower lip and shook his head almost imperceptibly.

She capped it and put it back.

“Mind if I ask you a question?”

“Go ahead.” He pulled off the other boot.

“Why the rope and the cliff?”


“I donʼt follow.”

“When I was a kid, coyotes killed my dog. I heard the fight, but by the time I found her in the dark, they were already feeding on her guts.” He took off both socks and stood up. “They pulled her insides out through her anus.” He stepped over to the precipice and surveyed the valley.

“How old were you?”


Rachel nodded her head, which he didnʼt see.

“With only the rope or only the cliff, Iʼd be left for the coyotes.”

“But this way itʼs only insects and birds.”

He spun to face her, his widened eyes betraying surprise–or maybe alarm.

“Birds always eat the eyeballs first,” she continued. “Must be a delicacy to them. The insects just want a womb for their maggots. A nutrient-rich source to give their young a good start.”

Regan fidgeted with the socks in his hands.

“You couldʼve picked a high branch.”

He looked distracted, as if he was still digesting the other image. “I thought of that.” He walked over to his boots, unbuttoning his silk shirt.


“A bear could cut the rope.”

“It seems youʼve thought it through.”

He took off his shirt, folded it and set it on a rock. “Weʼll see.”

Rachel looked back over the trail. “Well, I best be goinʼ.”


She turned the horse, “Those are some fancy clothes.”

“Yeah.” He took off his belt. “The boots alone cost me eleven hundred dollars, and that was before tax.”

“I suppose itʼs fitting.”

“It seemed that way to me, too, down at the house. But after being up here, I donʼt think so.”

“How so?”

He wasnʼt looking at her anymore. “I think Iʼll be more comfortable without them.”

“What are you going to do with those eleven hundred dollar boots?”

He carried the clothes over to the bristlecone tree, put the boots on top of the folded shirt, the socks inside the boots and the belt around the boots. “Come back and get ʼem if you like.”

“Well, I best be gettinʼ along.”


“You know my place?”

“I know it.”

“Weʼll be sittinʼ down for supper around six. Sirloin and potatoes. If you have a mind to, youʼre welcome to stop by.”

He picked up the loose end of the parachute cord and started tying a hangmanʼs noose. “I appreciate that.”

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Luckbane by Tony Breeden

Author: Tony Beeden
Publisher: Lonely Ogre Books
Pages: 376
Release Date: September 13, 2013
Source: Amazon Free Download

In a dystopian future, online gaming is the ultimate escape… until one corporation gives a few lucky players the chance to play their favorite sword and sorcery game live and in person on a distant planet. In the inaugural Øtherworld campaign, the winners will face monsters, magic, warriors, dragons, and betrayal as they quest to find a weapon capable of stopping the dreaded Firelord and his armies. For one lowly janitor-turned-alchemical adventurer, the stakes are much higher. Someone wants him very, very dead. And in a world where no one is who they seem to be, Jarrod Luckbane has no idea who he can trust. Everything is NOT under control.

When I think of unique novels, this is one I see as an example of a clever twist on an old subject. It is always rare to find a book that traverses genre boundaries, but I would consider Luckbane to be in that category. When I first started readingLuckbane, I'll be honest: I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy it. The first portion of the novel feels like a typical epic fantasy novel, complete with dragons, dwarves and goblins. When I read fantasy like that, two of my biggest deciding factors are how original the story line is, and if the author has done anything new with the races involved. The general world Lukebane spends most of his time in doesn't 'pass' in that essence, but the book ITSELF does. 

Let me explain a little.

Luckbane is what I would consider a cross between fantasy, and dystopian/sci-fi. It is a bridge between our world, and that of the traditional high fantasy. The fantasy elements are pretty traditional, but they all take place within a game. In this world, gaming has gone to a new level, where people are immersed in the virtual reality. The gaming elements have become tangible to them, something they experience in a new level. It becomes even more realistic when players are allowed to compete in the new Øtherworld campaign. Traveling to a planet created entirely for the players, they find many of the dangers around them to be real, and many of the characters turn out to be more than just NPCs.

Many of the elements aren't original, but they are intentional, in a way. Elves are graceful, dwarves are tough, but they were designed that way, much like you would expect in a MRPG. This is taking a futuristic look on things that already exist, and stretching beyond that. The overseers of this world have thrown in new monsters, new tasks, and risen to the demand the players have presented. But the core elements have still remained even in the future. 

I'm not a big fan of books that are entirely about action; I like a little variety in my stories, so sometimes the fighting in this book got a little heavy for me. But the mystery and plot elements introduced along the way kept me reading and curious to find out more. There was some minor religious talk that occurred partway through, which took me off guard. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind religion in books, but the sudden way it occurred did seem a little out of place, and I felt it could have been incorporated a bit better. I am curious what will happen in the next book; the story did cut off a little suddenly, but enough was revealed as I read that I didn't feel "cheated" of an ending like I have with some novels. Overall, it was a good read, and I would pick up the sequel. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Wildfire Blog Tour Featured Post

This week we're doing something slightly different, and featuring an author with Bit'N Book Tours. K. Vann O'Brien's new novel Wildfire is taking a stop here on it's blog tour!

The summer after her mother dies, Savanna Riera is forced to live in a weathered farmhouse in rural Texas. But as layers of dust are washed from the walls, her mother’s childhood home reveals secrets from the past, riddles everyone in town seems to understand; everyone but Savanna. When a wildfire breaks out across neighboring farmland, the boy next door calls on Savanna to help the victims driven from their homes. Dev is an artist with kind eyes and a fierce painting of her mother on his bedroom wall. But Savanna is drawn to Blake, a reclusive boy with a scar running down his face like a teardrop, who looks at Savanna as if she put it there. The three friends rally to bring relief to the evacuees. But when they face the fire of prejudice, they must rely on each other to get through the blaze unscathed.

Author Bio:
The first story K. Vann O'Brien ever wrote was about a balloon. Her fourth grade teacher read the story aloud to the class, and O'Brien realized the power of literature to inspire and delight. And she got a metal. And a cookie. And she quickly determined that all good things come with writing. In middle school she started a novel, which she pitched in high school, deciding she was much too mature for middle school humor. In college she studied Journalism, and started another novel, which warped into many different iterations as she took professional writing jobs to pay the bills after graduation. She's now hard at work on her second novel, which she hopes won't take quite so long to write.

Author Links:
Twitter: @vannobrien

Book Links:

Everyone loves a scavenger hunt so jump aboard and collect the clues to form a hidden message pertaining to Wildfire.  Visit all the blogs touring and look for the word in RED in each scavenger hunt graphic. It is a contest after all, so the first person to get their answer emailed to wins!  For a full schedule of all the blogs participating go here:!wildfire/c653

Excerpt: Part Two
I whipped around, leaving the cooler on the tailgate.
I didn’t recognize my father at first; he was covered in soot and grime and dripping with sweat.
“Is that you?” he said.  At the sound of his voice, my body instantly filled with warmth and a sweet rush of air.  I ran to him and he wrapped me into a tight hug that made tears sting at the back of my eyes.
“What are you doing here?” he said.  The relief in his voice had changed suddenly into something darker.  I couldn’t respond.  I was afraid deep sobs would burst out if I opened my mouth.  I tried to hold him tighter, tried to squeeze out all the stress I’d felt since the moment he’d left.  The tension between me and Blake, the fight between Jenny and her father, everything that had happened flowed out of me in a rush of tears.
“Hey,” he said, his voice softer now, his arms tightening around me.
Don’t let go, my body screamed.  He seemed to sense that need and held onto me until the tightness in my chest released and the flow of tears waned.
“You know,” he said after I was breathing normally again, “I’m filthy.”
I chuckled and loosened my grip on him.
“Yeah you are,” I said, wiping the tears from my face.
He pulled away, helping to wipe at the wetness on my cheeks.
“And now you are too,” he said.
I looked down at my t-shirt and jeans, which were now covered in damp, dark soot.  We laughed together and the throbbing in my chest slowed to a more even beat.
Suddenly, we heard shouting in the distance.  My father stiffened, turned to look in the direction of the sound and then turned back to me.
“What are you doing here?” the dark tone had returned to his voice.
“We brought you food and water,” I said, gesturing toward Blake’s truck.  My father looked behind me and nodded his head.  I turned to see Blake standing between us and the truck, situating his baseball cap and nodding to my father.
For the second time today, I wondered how long Blake had been standing there watching.
“It’s not safe here,” my father said when I turned back to him.  “You should go home.”
There’s that word again.  Home is not the farmhouse.  But I knew what he meant – home wasn’t here either.  And if it wasn’t safe for me, then he shouldn’t be here either.
“And I don’t want you going back to Walther High School today,” he said.
I frowned and then opened my mouth to protest when he shoved his arm in the air, pointing at the black fog billowing on the horizon behind him.
“This fire is not relenting,” he said.  “It’s spreading faster than anyone imagined.”
“Then we should help them evacuate,” I said.
“No,” my father said, gripping my arms tightly and staring hard into my eyes.  “They have plenty of help, Savanna.  You go home.  Do you hear me?”
My father’s voice cracked and my breath quickened.  I thought about Turner and his large bright eyes. And his mother, lying on her folded cot in the gym, exhausted with worry and grief.  I couldn’t just abandon them.
“Blake, right?”  my father said, looking behind me.
“Yes, sir,” Blake said, stepping closer to us.
“I want Savanna to go home,” my father said with a steady, hard gaze over my head.  “I don’t want her at Walther High School.  Can you promise me you’ll get her home?”
“Yes, sir,” Blake said again, nodding his head and then glancing at me.
What was I, a dog?  Take her home and don’t let her out of the house.  And make sure she doesn’t pee on the carpet.
Annoyance brewed in my chest, but then disappeared when a loud crash sounded across the horizon.  The shouting in the distance started again.  The curling cloud of smoke covered the sky almost completely now and was rolling slowly toward us.
Then suddenly, I saw the fire.
It reached impossibly high in the air, towering over us, its red and orange flames licking upward at the clouds of smoke above. 
Firefighters jumped from their cots and started running.  Even Buckley James was running, his round belly bouncing as he held onto his hat with one small hand.
“Savanna,” my father said, cradling my face with his hands.  “You have to go, kid.”
My heart pounded and I gripped my father’s arms a little tighter than before.
Come home with me.
Tears welled in my eyes.  I held tighter to his shirt.
He kissed me on the forehead and then pulled away.
I grabbed at him but missed.  I stumbled forward, reaching for him, but suddenly I was being held back.  Blake had locked onto my arms from behind.  He was saying something soft in my ear but I couldn’t hear him.  All I could hear was the blood rushing in my veins and the screaming in my head.
Come back!  Please come back!
But he didn’t.
He didn’t even turn around as Blake pulled me toward the truck.
Somehow, Blake managed to open the passenger door and stuff me into the truck, all without my help.  All I could do was watch my father’s back.

I didn’t look away until he disappeared into the depths of grey, churning smoke.

Giveaway embed code:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and Bookish

So I missed last weeks Top Ten Tuesday, but I liked the topic, so  we're going to revisit it anyway. Here are my Top Ten  Five Most "Unique" books I've read. In no particular order...

1. Salted by Aaron Galvin 
This was actually one of my recent reviews (seen here), but it is still one of the more unique takes on mermaid's I've seen. I loved the diverse cast of characters, and the premise felt really original.

2. Luckbane by Tony Breeden
This book is sort of like High Fantasy meets Urban Fantasy. I love the way the mythological type setting is incorporated with a somewhat futuristic/sci-fi/dystopian feel. The world feels really well thought out, and while it has taken some time for me to get into it, I've enjoyed it so far.

3. Cinder by Marissa Meyer
If you haven't read it, read it. I love the twist this gives to classic fairy tales, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.

4. The Selection by Kiera Cass
The prompt is most unique, not best! What was unique about this book was it was one of the rare stories that you could read the back cover, and that pretty much is the entire story. Nothing new was really revealed plot-wise. We don't understand what these attackers want! Will she be chosen? End of book. Still don't know.

5. Thirteen Orphans by Jane Lindskold
Great series, extremely unique mix of folklore, fantasy, and a real world element. Believable and creative. Read it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 368
Release Date: Original Release: 1993
Source: Scribd ebook subscription service

For 15 years, Tristan has tried to cope with hearing the thoughts of others. But that was child's play compared to what he must do now. When an old woman appears with a murderer hot on her trail, Tristan is thrust into a world of trickery and manipulation. 

With secret societies tracking his every move, Tristan must find the possessed emerald he was destined to protect and learn to control powers he never knew he had. Only, Tristan never was any good at doing what he was supposed to and the consequences for screwing up now could cost him everything he's grown to love..

So, there is probably little I could say about this book that hasn't been said. But it is still one of my favorites, and I'm going to post a review anyway.

If you've never read Stardust, I highly recommend it. Neil Gaiman has a way of throwing out seemingly obscure and unimportant tidbits throughout the book, that more often than not turn out to be relevant later down the line. I think this is a great book to look at as a writer, because it shows how to mix humor, style, and good storytelling to engage and keep a reader throughout the novel. Everything the author does in this book feels intentional, which is a really good quality. 

It may be odd to say this, but this is one of the few books I recommend watching the movie for as well. Rather than one being better than the other, I think the movie actually adds a little to it. The ending is different, but some of the smaller scenes really come to life on film (the lightning capturing, for instance). I think it's easy to miss things when you read this book, because you can initially dismiss them as being irrelevant. In the movie, smaller details seem to matter more, and it really illuminates how cleverly everything was worked in. 

Overall, this is one of those books I would keep on my shelf just to revisit every once and awhile and smile a little.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Descendant by Toni Kerr

Author: Toni Kerr
Publisher: Self-Published
Pages: 333
Release Date: December 15th, 2013
Source: Received a free copy from the author in 
exchange for an honest review.

For 15 years, Tristan has tried to cope with hearing the thoughts of others. But that was child's play compared to what he must do now. When an old woman appears with a murderer hot on her trail, Tristan is thrust into a world of trickery and manipulation. 

With secret societies tracking his every move, Tristan must find the possessed emerald he was destined to protect and learn to control powers he never knew he had. Only, Tristan never was any good at doing what he was supposed to and the consequences for screwing up now could cost him everything he's grown to love..

I debated for a long time what to rate this book. Sometimes I liked it a bit more than others, and by the end we had a bit of a lukewarm relationship. I didn't hate it, but I'll be honest, I spent most of the book feeling really confused. The writing was fine, but the plot, organization and general structure of the story left me a little uncertain.

I understand that sometimes as a reader, you're meant to feel the characters disjointedness. When they don't know what's happening, you're not necessarily going to. But this whole book felt like constant unanswered questions, and I found it hard to keep going at points. For me, I need to go into a new world with a rule book: here are dragons, dragons can do this. There was no rule book here. It was just lots of mystery, and it all leads into book two.

This world was just really outlandish, and while I love originality, I didn't feel like everything was really explained. Why can Dorian talk to plants? Is just this island special? Can other people in the world do these things? What are these secret societies? What's with the emerald and the map? What happened to the quest? I'm okay with a few things being left for sequels to keep the reader going, but by the time the book was over, it still felt like nothing was answered. There were just loose ends hanging everywhere, and when I was connecting dots, I wasn't even sure if they were the right ones. 

On top of that, Tristan keeps doing all kinds of new things, but we never revisit the older abilities he displays. The book starts with him hearing peoples thoughts, but that pretty much goes away about midway through the book, as the 'newer and shinier' powers come into action. It felt a bit like a superpower roulette, you just never knew what would show up next.

The older abilities weren't really expanded upon either, we just sort of migrate onward in the story. I felt like the author was really trying to maintain a sense of mystery about who Tristan was and what his role in this world really is, but I needed more than what was provided. When I reach the end of the book, I want to feel satisfied. I felt a little starved with this one.

The dragon element was different, but at the same time disappointing. Theoretically, Tristan may be part dragon, but at this point in the story it felt like dragons were their own unique race with the dragon name slapped onto them. I didn't feel anything really dragon-like in this story. 

Most of the chapters were really short. The time Tristan spent on the beach felt like it was chopped up unnecessarily.Dorian's viewpoint sort of vanishes near the end of the book. I'm not really sure why. 

Sequential books could prove promising, but I don't really feel that desperation to know what comes next. You know that feeling when someone tells you they'll pick you up by 5 and you look at the clock at 8, gradually coming to terms with the fact they aren't showing up? That was me during the last few pages of the book. I just felt like I got let down, waiting around for something that never showed.

Friday, April 4, 2014

April is the Month of...Busy?

So I've seen a few other Bloggers doing their Month in Review features, but I thought I'd do something different. This is sort of a 'Monthly Preview' of things to look forward to with my blog this month!

First of all, the sad news: I may be a little slower on reviews in the first few weeks here. Usually I can finish a book in a day or two, but I'm doing a few beta reads right now, so those will take up time, and the results won't be showing themselves here on the blog. If you're curious how those are going, you can see my little progress bars on the sidebar, but other than their disappearance and reappearance, it's sort of a behind-the-scenes adventure. 

The good news is, I should have some fresh new background art here within a few weeks! I have been working on a new piece of art, and I'm hoping that will work well for the blog! It's always hard to tell if I'll like it or not until I finish something though. If I put it up and decide it really looks bad for some reason, I will at least post a link to it so you can see. In the meantime, here is a WIP to enjoy.

Book Haul/Upcoming Reviews
Last month, I had tons of review requests come in. I apologize to anyone who came in near the end of the scramble; I appreciate the patience everyone is showing. It is hard trying to pick and choose what to read, but as much as I'd love to take on every book, I just wouldn't have enough time. One week I  had an average of three new requests every morning when I woke up, which made it hard to try and decide which ones to accept. I've been on the other side of those requests, hoping someone would read my work, so it always sucks to be the one saying no. 

Beyond the books I pick up via review requests, I also have a few books in my bookshelves from other outlets as well: Oyster, the book subscription I use, Netgalley, and then general book shopping. As much as I adore the authors I get to review for, sometimes I just need to read something because it caught my eye all on its own. It's also nice to read books in the mainstream market, because then I don't feel quite as much pressure about my own review. It's nice to watch it drift into the masses.

Anyway, in no particular order, here are a few of the titles I have to read in the next few weeks. I tried to pick a few from the various outlets I collected them from:

General Author News
So, I'm doing a few shows this week; another reason for my busy-ness. I have a book signing, and I'm doing some comic cons, as well as an art show. Yay! Oh, and graduation is around the corner. I guess that's important. 

My book giveaway is ending in 15 days, so don't forget to check that out! Otherwise, I will have new reviews and posts for you in the near future. If anyone is actually reading this, thanks for checking out my blog! I will try not to be too sporadic in the upcoming days. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Plus One by Elizabeth Fama

Plus One
Author: Elizabeth Fama
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Pages: 384
Release Date: April 8th, 2014
Source: Free Copy from Netgalley

Divided by day and night and on the run from authorities, star-crossed young lovers unearth a sinister conspiracy in this compelling romantic thriller.

Seventeen-year-old Soleil Le Coeur is a Smudge—a night dweller prohibited by law from going out during the day. When she fakes an injury in order to get access to and kidnap her newborn niece—a day dweller, or Ray—she sets in motion a fast-paced adventure that will bring her into conflict with the powerful lawmakers who order her world, and draw her together with the boy she was destined to fall in love with, but who is also a Ray.

Set in a vivid alternate reality and peopled with complex, deeply human characters on both sides of the day-night divide, Plus One is a brilliantly imagined drama of individual liberty and civil rights, and a fast-paced romantic adventure story.

When I read a dystopian, one of the most important factors on a good rating is believably. A good story hinges heavily on whether I accept the world the author is showing me. Unfortunately, Plus One really bombed that test. The writing isn't bad, the characters are okay, but the whole plot just felt unrealistic by the end.

In this world, work forces are divided into Night and Day: Smudges and Rays. Curfews are enforced, and now years down the line, it has turned into a type of segregation. While that seems like it could be a unique concept, the reasoning behind it just didn't make sense to me. A flu epidemic somehow solved by dividing society into day and night shifts? I'm sorry it just felt ridiculous. 

Let me break it down a little bit: the government is spending all this extra money medicating these night workers, policing them to make sure they aren't around during the day, and for what? For less crowded transportation? Maybe at the time that made sense (disease couldn't spread with less people around. Okay, I could buy that), but crowded transportation is usually a good thing from an economic standpoint. More people riding at once, equals less trips transportation has to make, less money wasted. Round the clock working means more production is happening, true, but you are also using more energy to light and run these buildings because they are on during the night. Financially, a 24-hour society is a pit to throw money into. That's without even considering things like increase of car accidents or pedestrians getting hit at night because drives couldn't see them. These people don't live in tunnels: their eyes don't just magically adjust to their nighttime existence! What about crime? Why on earth would you put all the undesirables on a night living schedule? I wouldn't feel comfortable sleeping if I knew a whole society of be-grumbled citizens could just decide 'screw it' and rob my house because I'm a Ray and they knew I'd be sleeping. I could see making everyone keep a set schedule and enforcing a curfew, shutting everything down at night. But this? There are so many holes and none of it is ever addressed. 

Setting aside my clear frustration with the world, I'm not sure the plot itself made me feel much better. Basically, a factory worker injures herself then tries to kidnap her baby brother from a hospital. It's a dramatic display of love for her grandpa, sure, but at the same time I'm asking what the heck?! At one point she's shoving this baby in her jacket. Who thought this was a good idea?! I don't know how Sol could care so much about her grandpa, but so little about her own niece. Yeah she's just going to run home with it, bring it back later. Hopefully it doesn't suffocate in the meantime, get smothered in it's sleep while it's stuffed in her jacket, you know? 

I kept reading though. I wanted to give it a shot. I liked D'Arcy, and I liked his background story. His family felt believable and I would have enjoyed reading more about him. The romance between him and Sol felt odd though, a bit sudden, and there was one scene near the end that just threw me for a loop. It really seemed like a bad time to be all romantic. The ending was unique, a little cheesy maybe, but after everything that happened it felt like the right end. Sol seemed believable as a character, even though some of the things she did seemed completely ridiculous. Then again, most of the book felt a bit ridiculous. 

Beautiful cover, some interesting twists in the end, but I just couldn't get over my initial bewilderment. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and Bookish

This weeks Top Ten Tuesday is Top Ten "gateway" books/authors in our reading journey. It's actually sort of fun to look back on some of my favorite books, because it always reminds me why I fell in love with reading. Sometimes, especially when I read for school, I lose a bit of the magic of books. 

The following books are all ones I probably stayed up at night finishing or sneakily read during class at least once in my childhood. Some of these were even more recent, but who says gateways can't happen at any point in life?


1. Redwall
When I was a kid, I admit: I used to walk into a library and pick books based one two things: length, and number of books. Redwall was a series that took up a whole shelf on it's own, and each book was at least an inch thick, so it quickly became one of my first choices to read during my fourth grade year. 

2. Animorphs
Animorphs was a different sort of adventure: it was the first time I successfully checked out 54 books at the same time from the library. I suppose Animorphs was 'gateway' for me in the sense it made me realize how fast I could digest books. Most people read maybe one book a week if they're devoted. I learned early on there were no boundaries is I had a comfy chair and a stack of literature.

3. Harry Potter
Harry Potter was my first fandom experience with a book. While I was really into things like Pokemon and Sailor Moon, Harry Potter was the first book I read that was 'cool'. Harry Potter was a gateway for me to my friends. No longer was I reading alone, I was sharing the world with other kids.

4. The Hobbit
The Hobbit was actually a challenging book for me. I was in 4th grade, and my brother said I couldn't read it because it was too hard. When I proved him wrong, I realized I could never turn away a book just because it was too intimidating. 

5. A School Story
This was the gateway to my career as an author. The story was about a girl who got published, and I wanted nothing more than to be that girl. It gave me a dream I could shoot for that wasn't something like being a wizard or getting super powers. I felt like I could make that dream come true.

6. The Hunger Games
This was a gateway into the Dystopian genre. Need I say more?

7. Oliver Twist
This was probably one of the longest, most difficult books I read as I kid. But it was another book that proved I could read something that seemed daunting at first. 

8. Marissa Meyer
Marissa Meyer is an author that inspires me to write when I don't always feel like writing. She was a NaNoWriMo writer, and her books are still really good. She is an author who encourages me to just keep writing and not be afraid of the mistakes. 

9. Jane Lindskold
Jane Lindskold was the gateway to undiscovered authors to me. While she's fairly well known, I found her book on a clearance rack, and before, I will admit, I was a little stingy about what I read. Her work proved that it was okay to pick up something new and give it a chance.

10. Tracy Hickman
Tracy was the first author I met in person, and he made a lasting impression on me about who I'd want to be as a writer. He never looked down on me, and gives so much attention to his fans. He is a great person, not just a great writer.